Britain before Brexit: an intimate portrait of the country and its people
In a new series, The Independent’s photographer Richard Morgan examines his own country in the midst of Brexit’s chaos, scrutinising the contrasts of contemporary Britain and the ambivalence of modern Britishness. This week: Yorkshire and the Humber
Britain is divided, by 12 regions, a statistical arrangement designed to help governments see the life of the population in graphs, charts and tables. I’m looking at Britain through these regions too, but not statistically, not through numbers that ignore the brilliant details of everyday life, but through the lens of my camera, on the ground, up close.
Yorkshire and the Humber
The first thing said to me in Doncaster is, “Are you Polish?” A fitting welcome: I had moved to Poland soon after the Brexit vote in June 2016, had been photographing there until two months ago when I decided to return “home” and take a proper look at Britain. “Nie, jestem z Anglii” (“No, I’m from England”), I reply. The questioner is new on the streets, is looking for the local Polish community and thinks I might know something about it. “I’m sorry,” I say, “I’m not from around here.”
That crazy feeling of walking away from someone forever, into the city, alone, wondering where I am from, across to Wakefield and Dewsbury, in and out of Storm Ali, to York, Scarborough, searching for pictures that could say something meaningful and lasting about who we might be, about the places we live in, about our times, about all of it, all at once. A downbeat cafe surrounded by paintings of a vibrant Paris; a hungry Romanian begging in front of a food hall; a violent message against the peace of a coastal view.
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A vicar in Wakefield promises me that fellowship is more important than worship, especially now, especially in this country. I remember the emboldened graffiti I’d seen through the train window on my way out of London a few days ago: HOPE. No context. No explanation. Just the word, hanging there, suspended. The strangest thing to witness at the beginning of a journey, especially now, especially in this country. Without any context the word was both uplifting and sinister, serious and ironic, playful and deadpan. Much like Britain. I think. I decide to take it with me, for a rainy day, as something in reserve.
About the photographer
Richard Morgan is an award-winning British street photographer. After receiving a PhD from University College London’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies, and prompted by the Brexit vote in June 2016, he moved to Poland where he put together an intimate portrait of Poland and its people, and went on to win 2018 CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year with one of the photographs from the project. Richard has recently explored Kaliningrad, Russia, for The Independent, looking at everyday life during the 2018 World Cup. He is currently exploring Britain for The Independent.
For more of Richard Morgan’s work you can visit his website here